Tag Archives: The Hook

On the Waterfront: Marilyn and John Garfield

Three years after their encounter on the set of We Were Strangers (see here), Marilyn and John Garfield were early contenders for the lead roles in On the Waterfront, according to Marilyn’s photographer friend, Sam Shaw, who was then developing it as a screenplay. (Director Elia Kazan denied all of this, but Al Ryelander, then a press agent for Columbia Studios, insisted the story was accurate.)

By 1952, Marilyn’s star was rising –  but Garfield’s career was destroyed, after he refused to ‘name names’ to the House Un-American Activities Committee, and became the most famous victim of the ‘red-baiting’ era. He died of a heart attack months later, aged 37. Author Robert Knott retold the story, which also touches on Marilyn’s relationships with Kazan and future husband Arthur Miller, in He Ran All the Way: The Life of John Garfield (2003.)

On the Waterfront was released to acclaim in 1954, starring Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint. Ironically, the film can be seen as director Elia Kazan’s self-justification for his own decision to name names. One can only imagine how different Marilyn’s subsequent career might have been had she played the role of demure Edie Doyle…

‘On the Waterfront’ (1954)

“Shaw gave Monroe the script while she was in New York to take in the Broadway production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Monroe read the script and passed it on to her lover, Elia Kazan. Shaw, who called himself a ‘half-assed observer at the Actors Studio,’ had met Kazan on the set of the 1950 film Panic in the Streets. ‘Kazan had heard about my script (before Monroe gave it to him) and wanted to see it,’ Shaw said. ‘I wouldn’t give it to him, because he was involved with Arthur Miller on a similar project, The Hook.’ But after Monroe gave Kazan the script, the director called Shaw. ‘You’ve got an interesting script, but it needs a lot of work,’ he told Shaw. ‘Let Budd Schulberg work on it.’ Shaw, seeing the merit in Kazan’s suggestion, raised $40,000 to pay Schulberg to work on the script. According to Shaw, at this point Jack Cohn turned the script over to Sam Spiegel … Within a year Kazan, Spiegel and Schulberg were preparing the film for Columbia Pictures with Marlon Brando … By that point, neither Shaw nor Garfield were involved in any way.”

Marilyn, Arthur and ‘A View From the Bridge’

At the London premiere of 'A View From the Bridge', 1956
At the London premiere of ‘A View From the Bridge’, 1956

Writing for the New Yorker, theatre critic Hilton Als considers the emotive impact of Arthur Miller’s 1955 play, A View From the Bridge, and its symbolic connection to Marilyn.

“In 1951, he made a trip to Los Angeles to work on The Hook, a screenplay he was writing, with the director Elia Kazan. Through Kazan, he met Marilyn Monroe. Returning home, he couldn’t shake the effect that her emotional honesty and beauty had had not only on his stolid middle-class perspective but on his art and his imagination. (One of Miller’s biographers describes him as being emotionally constipated.) The nascent A View from the Bridge remained unfinished, as Miller grappled with the change in himself:

‘For I knew in my depths that I wanted to disarm myself before the sources of my art, which were not in wife alone nor in family alone but, again, in the sensuousness of a female blessing, something, it seemed, not quite of this world. In some diminished sense it was sexual hunger, but one that had much to do with truthfulness to myself and my nature and even, by extension, to the people who came to my plays. . . . Even after only those few hours with Marilyn, she had taken on an immanence in my imagination, the vitality of a force one does not understand but that seems on the verge of lighting up a vast surrounding plain of darkness.’

It was Miller’s good fortune and bad luck that he had found someone who acted as a gateway to greater truth-telling for him as an artist, but who also demanded a degree of attention that took him away from his writing and thus away from a deeper self-examination. By the time he completed his one-act version of A View from the Bridge, Miller and Monroe were romantically involved, but the play still agitated him.

It’s not far-fetched to say that the intimacy Miller struggles with in the play—the intimacy he wants the audience to have with the characters, the intimacy he wants Eddie to have with himself—was due, in part, to the example of Monroe, who drew so much on her own life and feelings in her later roles. Her rawness often led to collapse or hysteria, and it’s that hysteria that sometimes emerges in A View from the Bridge, despite Miller’s attempts to suppress it.

In To the Actors Performing This Play: On Style and Power, a 1964 essay addressed to the actors who were staging the first production of Incident at Vichy, he wrote:

‘Acting has come perilously close to being a species of therapy and has moved too far from art. A too great absorption in one’s own feelings is ordinarily called self-indulgence. . . . It is to be emphasized again that acting is not a private but a social occupation.’

But if the great actors of the day, like Kim Stanley, Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, and Monroe—who was unforgettable in her last screen performance, in the 1961 film The Misfits, written by Miller—had put the social responsibility of art first, would they have made the mistakes and the discoveries that make them transcendent poets?”

World Premiere for Miller’s ‘Hook’

Marilyn poses for photographer Ben Ross, reading a play by Arthur Miller - shortly after their first meeting in 1951
Marilyn poses for photographer Ben Ross, while reading Arthur Miller – shortly after their first meeting in 1951

The Hook, Arthur Miller’s long-buried screenplay about troubled dockers on the New York waterfront – a district still known as Red Hook – is finally being staged at the Royal and Derngate Theatre in Northampton (of all places) after more than sixty years on the shelf, Matt Trueman writes in today’s Guardian.

“This is the script – ‘a play for the screen,’ he called it – that indirectly triggers Miller’s summons to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). It sowed the seeds of his marriage to Marilyn Monroe and his professional split from director Elia Kazan. Without The Hook, he probably wouldn’t have written The Crucible or A View from the Bridge, nor would Kazan have made On the Waterfront. It might be the most influential film never made.

Don’t think staging it is an exercise in theatrical history, though. Sixty-six years on, The Hook is unnervingly prescient. Its focus is the exploited workforce and union corruption in New York’s docks. ‘It talks about the living wage, zero-hours contracts and industrial communities on the brink of enormous change,’ says director James Dacre, adamant that he wouldn’t programme it otherwise. ‘Why here? Why now?'”

This play is of special interest to Marilyn fans, because Miller originally pitched it as a movie to Columbia’s Harry Cohn in 1951, during his first visit to Hollywood with director Elia Kazan. Marilyn, who was then dating Kazan, even accompanied them to a meeting with Cohn, disguised as a secretary.

As noted in Miller’s autobiography, Timebends, Marilyn’s attendance was intended as revenge on the tyrannical Cohn, who had fired her in 1948 after she rejected his sexual advances. Cohn, furious at his humiliation, dismissed The Hook as communist propaganda.

In 1954, Kazan would direct an Oscar-winning film with a very similar theme for Columbia: On the Waterfront. By then, Kazan had appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee and named several colleagues as communists, in what many (including Miller) saw as a self-serving bid to save his own career.

In his own testimony before HUAC in 1956, Miller admitted to having attended a few communist meetings many years before, but refused on principle to name others. Marilyn stood by her husband, and he was acquitted in 1958.